Joel and Ethan Coen have given us such classics as Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski, Fargo, and NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, to name a few, but some cinephiles have wondered why Ethan decided to sit on co-directing The Tragedy of Macbeth, his brother’s latest film. The movie, starring Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand, will make its world premiere on opening night at the New York Film Festival, but it will also be notable for being Joel Coen’s first solo endeavor as a filmmaker. Joel wrote and directed the film without his brother and now we have some info as to why Ethan sat this one out. It appears the younger Coen is done making movies…at least for now.
The news comes thirdhand but it is from a reliable source in the Coen Brother’s circle. Composer Carter Burwell, a frequent collaborator of the brothers, reveals that Ethan simply didn’t want to make a movie as The Tragedy of Macbeth was being developed. It doesn’t exactly sound like he’s officially retiring but is likely taking a break. Burwell’s comments on an episode of the Score podcast this week do coincide with previous comments that Ethan Coen has made about “giving movies a rest” to focus on plays and other projects. Here is what Burwell had to say:
“Ethan has written and produced on his own I know, but this is the first time Joel is directing on his own. Ethan just didn’t want to make movies anymore. Ethan seems very happy doing what he’s doing, and I’m not sure what Joel will do after this. They also have a ton of scripts they’ve written together that are sitting on various shelves. I hope maybe they get back to those. I’ve read some of those, and they are great. We are all at an age where we just don’t know… we could all retire. It’s a wonderfully unpredictable business.”
The Director’s Guild of America (DGA) actually gave Joel Coen sole credit for directing the brothers’ films beginning with their debut, Blood Simple, in 1984, all the way up until The Ladykillers in 2004. This had to do with the DGA’s rules against shared directing credits, which are only allowed from an “established duo.” 20 years should be enough time to make it clear you’re an “established duo” but amazingly the DGA waited that long to give both brothers credit for directing their films. Ethan has always been listed as a producer and the brothers frequently share editing credits for their films under the pseudonym Roderick Jaynes. It wasn’t until after No Country for Old Men that the DGA allowed them to share directorial credit. Even if the DGA didn’t link them, they have been in this together up until now.
Ethan is well within his right to take a break to pivot to other forms of storytelling or even retire if he deems it necessary. He’s put in some great work with his brother and I’d be very interested to know how good some of those scripts are that Burwell mentioned but if it’s an end of an era, they at least leave us with a filmography that exemplifies modern-day cinema.
Do YOU think Ethan Coen is done directing? Do YOU want to see the Coen Brothers get back together for another project?